BioShock: The Collection review: An exemplary return to the unforgiving depths

It's been over three years since the last BioShock game was released. In that time, fans have heard next to nothing about where the series is headed. After an internal restructuring left the game's original developer with only fifteen employees, the future of 2K's once-flagship series has remained ambiguous. Apart from an unfavorable mobile port, BioShock: The Collection is the first title to appear after Irrational Games severed ties with the franchise.

BioShock: The Collection brings together the three core BioShock installments into a single package, marking the first time any have been available on a current-generation console. Each of these games has seen differing levels of graphical enhancements, ranging from slight performance increases to complete texture overhauls. But with all these changes, have we received the definitive BioShock experience?

Gameplay mechanics have been left untouched during the porting process

From a content standpoint, BioShock: The Collection brings together all three of the BioShock titles and their subsequent DLC packs for a relatively low price point. The only absence from the package is BioShock 2's experimental multiplayer mode, which was met with a mixed response after its debut back in 2010.

As a true remaster, gameplay in BioShock: The Collection also holds up almost identically to the original. Based on the same engine with a new coat of paint, gameplay mechanics have been left untouched during the porting process. Perhaps the biggest change for console players will be the doubled framerate, which smooths out gameplay across the board.

Descend to Rapture

Across the collection, it's clear that each of the games have received varying levels of tweaks and improvements. Out of the three titles, the first BioShock has undergone some of the most drastic of changes, with new textures, models and lighting populating the world.

The biggest changes can be seen among the game's more prevalent assets, such as character models and environmental textures. These changes mostly tidy up some of the rough edges that have emerged over the years, rather than completely revising the experience.

The overall presentation of Rapture is sleeker and more refined than ever before

While different aspects of the world have seen varying levels of enhancements, the overall presentation of Rapture is sleeker and more refined than ever before. With these changes, the game now takes advantage of more modern technologies, but also steers the experience away from the original vision.

In the end, these changes culminate to deliver a modern revision on the original BioShock, putting a slight spin on the game's art direction. These changes do alter its presentation, but ultimately help it stand out against other console remasters.

Paradise or Perdition?

BioShock 2 has undergone a similar treatment, with the introduction of higher resolution textures, reworked models, and minor lighting changes. Like its predecessor the game targets 1080p at 60 FPS, and manages to consistently meet this goal in most scenarios.

While I was never a fan of the second BioShock, the game held up well on the Xbox One. Based on the same Unreal Engine 2.5 engine, BioShock 2's overall performance on the Xbox One doesn't hugely differ from the first game. It definitely appears that the original was given more attention, but it's hard to fault developers for going above what's expected from the average console port.

Taking it to the skies

The third and final slice of BioShock: The Collection comes in the form of BioShock Infinite – a game known as Irrational Games' last effort before parting with the franchise. BioShock Infinite stands out from the previous two games in both in its concepts and the technicalities behind it.

Arriving three years after the series' last journey to Rapture, BioShock Infinite takes players floating city of Columbia. With this new locale, the game explores new aspects of the story and the gameplay entwined around it. This change in direction sparked polarised opinions at launch, with a sharply divided view of the game among fans.

BioShock Infinite holds up relatively well on today's console hardware

These changes also spanned to the game's design, with a new graphical style built on Unreal Engine 3. As a result, BioShock Infinite holds up relatively well on today's console hardware, well enough that it didn't even need a full remaster. While the original PC version has been ported to modern consoles, it's clear that the game has received the least attention out of the trilogy.

Following this port to consoles, it's hard to deny that BioShock Infinite is still a great looking title. Even with the restrictions of the Xbox One's hardware, the port still rivals the original PC version when running on high settings. This doesn't come without a cost, however, as proven by the prevalent hitching issues I encountered during my playthrough. As the only title that diverges from the other BioShock games on a technical level, the looks to be a likely cause of the issue.

Conclusion

During my time spent with BioShock: The Collection, I came to realize the bundle is more than a simple port to current generation hardware. Unlike the countless number of effortless ports that have arisen in recent years, BioShock: The Collection is a faultless example of what today's cross-generation ports can achieve.

While the return to BioShock's unsettling universe is enjoyable, it's hard to recommend the collection to fans of the original. With only a slight graphical boost, the changes BioShock: The Collection introduces are welcome, but don't warrant a second playthrough for most. These refinements and tweaks overshadow the packages' minor technical flaws, and deliver one of the best ways to experience the BioShock series to date.

Pros:

  • Plenty of content for a relatively low price
  • Brings the older BioShock titles up to modern standards
  • Mostly holds 1080p @ 60 FPS

Cons:

  • Inconsistent performance across games
  • Offers little extra for returning players

Matt Brown is Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.

22 Comments
  • I'm gonna end up buying this again.
  • I probably will too. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Too bad the mouse control in Bioshock 1 is still crap.
  • We got B1 DLC on PC, commentary and museum. For B2, all DLC included, awesome. Infinite? The PC version is still better
  • Would you kindly
  • Best line. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • You forgot to mention that you are unable to take screenshots and game clips of any of the games
  • Yeah I've heard this since my review. I use external capture cards only, so I never actually came across this issue. I'm surprised an official response/some reasoning hasn't been provided.
  • Would you kindly give is the opportunity to blacklist all news covering games? It is getting unbearable... I'm just not interested in console gaming and scrolling through 10 posts to spot the odd phone news or editorial is getting tiresome.
  • Bioshock One is one of the few games to make my neck hairs stand on end.
  • Have they added akimbo support for weapons and plasmids into the first game? I couldn't replay it without that after playing the sequels.
  • Yeah, to this day I'm STILL playing thru ALL these titles over and over....
  • Exemplary except for the nerfed Screenshots, which says "we don't care THAT much."
  • It's been years, and the publisher is trying to soak as much out of a good game as they can get by repackaging and marketing.  It's just like the few good films that there are out there.  They only make one of them no matter how much profit the studios and actors make.  And if they do happen to make sequels, it takes ten years for them to come out with one.  By then, nobody remembers and everyone's lost interst becasue they were forced to move on.  Now Bioshock's developers have disbanded and the great Bioshock series as we once knew it will be no more.  
  • I think another dev team could pull it off, but I think 2K is worried about tainting a franchise that's got a good track record so far. There's also a problem with creating a decent premise, without cloning the original games. BioShock Infinite tried something new and the game received a mixed response in the end.
  • Love this series and rebought it to play on XB1; still an excellent experience, now more than ever!
  • I have the original BioShock and BioShock 2 for PC. Is it worthwhile to get Infinite? Posted via my Moto X Pure Edition using the Windows Central App for Android
  • @Laura, Infinite is an excellent storyline as well. Doesn't really carry anything over from previous two (that I can recall) but another great game in the series...can't wait to play it again (but still on Bioshock 1)
  • The thing is, I'd actually say BioShock Infinite is my favourite from the lot. If I'm being entirely honest it doesn't share a huge amount with the previous games, aside from the basic themes the game explores. But the whole world of Columbia and its characters make it an amazing title. If you're hesitant, I'm sure there will be a sale on Steam soon!
  • Enjoying playing them again on the XB1 although at times the game freezes and I end up having to restart the game. Other than that it's been good.  Wish we could take screen shots! I wanted to use some for my background. 
  • Yeah, I've heard about this. I actually didn't realise during my review as I mostly use external capture cards. I'm surprised this hasn't been officially addressed yet as it seems rather peculiar.
  • Why must it be remastered versions? Is it too much for backward compatibility?